Sadly ashtanga and injuries are two words that you often hear together. However this really needn't be the case as there is nothing within the Ashtanga system per se that would lead to injury. I have an advanced practise and have not suffered from any injuries now for years. The key to this is by focussing on breath, bandha and a careful body awareness. I came across this article by Janet Meredith about David Williams I decided to post it below because it clearly sets out David's view on how to practise yoga deeply and safely - and into your nineties!
Do yoga daily!
Does that sound like it takes a great deal of discipline? David Williams thinks not, as he has been practicing the Ashtanga system of yoga daily, with the exception of moon days and Saturdays, since 1973. David is a dedicated practitioner, because he is fascinated by yoga and its many benefits . To him, discipline implies punishment. Upon meeting the very fit and energetic fifty five year old David, the benefits of yoga become readily apparent.
These are just some of the astute observations of David Williams during a four day workshop I attended. Beginning September 30, 2004, my view of yoga was changed forever. The workshop was an almost 180 degree turnaround from my strict alignment based training of the past eleven years. If it hurts, you are doing it wrong, was a principle theme of David's workshop. Based on the number of injured Ashtanga
yogis I have met, perhaps this is a very good rule to follow. He shared with us the Ashtanga system of yoga as it was taught to him by Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India. It is a bit different than one might experience at a led Ashtanga yoga class in the west where competition plays a large cultural role. When David first ventured to Mysore there were not any led group classes and yoga was only taught individually and passed
along to others in the same manner.
David's fascination with yogis was what led him to India in 1971, for he desperately wanted to learn “the yoga”. Through serendipitous events and some hardship, he eventually met his teacher, Pattabhi Jois. One evening, Manju Jois (Pattabhi's son) was performing a yoga demonstration where David expressed his sincere desire to learn. However, Manju said he was traveling and had no organized classes. He had learned from his father. Manju also told David that his father only taught Brahman men. Upon meeting Pattabhi in the flesh, David's enthusiasm and sincerity were so apparent that he agreed to teach him. David was instructed for four months, learning the first, second, and half of the third series of Ashtanga yoga. When David's visa expired he returned to America and began teaching classes at a yoga and kung fu studio.
Soon thereafter, Pattabhi Jois contacted David wanting to come to America. David arranged what would be considered in today's terminology a "workshop". Each student
contributed enough to pay for Jois and his son, Manju, to come to America. Jois and Manju stayed for four months. During the workshop, David told us the story of Ashtanga yoga and how it came to be taught by Pattabhi Jois in India. It is as follows: Krishnamacharya was the head professor at Maharaja's Sanskrit College in Mysore. He decided he wanted to learn yoga and ventured to Mt. Kailash in Tibet and then Varanasi in search of a yoga master. Daily for eight months, Krishnamacharya would request to meet with the master and daily for eight months, he was refused. One day, his request was honored and after passing a rigorous Sanskrit test, Krishnamacharya was invited to learn yoga. Upon completing his eight years of training, he returned to the Maharaja's Sanskrit College in Mysore.
It was only a short time before fourteen year old Pattahbi Jois became one of Krishnamacharya's students and began to learn the Ashtanga system of yoga. Jois tells that he was basically an apprentice to Krishnamacharya and had to beg to be taught yoga. A few years later, the asthmatic sixteen year old nephew of Krishnamacharya, BKS Iyengar, came to Mysore. Iyengar's family sent him to his uncle to learn yoga only after exhausting all other possibilities of treatment for his lung/breathing disorders. Jois taught the sickly teenager. Later Krishnamacharya decided to retire and move to the coast, leaving Jois in charge of the yoga program. Jois was twenty-three at the time. Jois became a Sanskrit Vidwan (master) aswell as the yogasana teacher at Maharaja's Sanskrit College.
David’ s first focus is on the moolabandha, deep breathing, and continuous one pointed concentration. “If it hurts, back off. If it is one millimeter past a stretch back off. That way no one gets hurt”, mused David. He suggested we use our breath to move ourselves into a posture, rather then pulling or tugging on toes, legs or arms. He also stressed the importance of symmetry. Everyone is stronger, tighter, weaker, etc. on one side. Try brushing your teeth with the opposite hand! “Openings" as so beamingly referred to by some are actually tears and rips, David asked that no one have an "opening" during his workshop!
Here are some differences between most ashtanga classes I have attended and David’s workshop, they are:
David stayed on his mat during practice and led the class by doing the asanas with us, rather than moving about the class. David taught us that if moola bandha is being properly done, the uddiyana is automatically engaged. The gazing point in most forward bending postures is the navel, rather than the toes. This engages the chin lock, as instructed by the Yoga Scriptures. He said that if someone has their chest completely on their thighs and chin between legs, then they can look up and gaze at toes, however this is not appropriate for those who cannot get their head to their knees, and does not give the benefits of the chinlock. Keeping the head down completes the natural curve of the spine and allows for the aid of gravity. David's dialogue does not include many Sanskrit words and he believes that knowing Sanskrit does not make someone a better yogi. The opening and closing chant are not taught because he has found that some students have no desire to invoke Hindu Gods. David teaches from his mat and claims that most people learn better by observing as well as hearing instructions, rather than just listening. He says that savasana is the MOST important part of practice. Sounds easy, doesn't it? Savasana or corpse pose is the time when our body utilizes the prana created by the breath and moola bandha. Prana is life force; prana heals us. Keep the body and the mind still; do not think (because mental energy is more taxing than physical). Our genetic code and DNA know exactly where healing is needed and will automatically send prana to that area. Cover up with lots of blankets to keep the internal heat as long as possible. David suggested that if one is at home, get in bed under the covers! Depending on one's physical limitations, David may ask someone to repeat sun salutation A and sun salutation B three, five or even ten times, then return the next day for more of the same or to add new poses.
When instructing privately, David has time to fully assess each individual, their capabilities, goals, and injuries. During a group class there is not time for that special attention, therefore he does not teach headstand or shoulder stand during first series because he does not want even one person to injure themselves. He also talked about resting on moon days and Saturdays.
Consistency is the key. When Jois taught David in Mysore, there were no vinyasas between right and left sides. This began in California because classes became so popular and crowded that Jois added vinyasas to make certain everyone mastered the basics.
After more than twenty years of exclusively teaching private classes, David has recently
decided to travel and instruct groups in an effort to introduce the original ashtanga system as it was taught to him by Jois. David does not refer to his workshops as teacher trainings; he wants to appeal to everyone and even though someone may be a student with no intention of ever teaching, no one knows the future. One may end up teaching many people or perhaps just a friend. He considers us all potential teachers.
Most yoga in our lives will be practiced alone so we need to make it fun and make it feel good; that is the key to being able to do yoga at age ninety! A minimum of ten
minutes per day. Sun salutations A and B along with the three finishing postures. It sounds easy. The question is ... are you fascinated enough?
I found this article on LiveLeak.com talking about the use of yoga to enhance competitive sports performance.
As a practise yoga will improve strength, flexibility, concentration and wellbeing so it is not surprising that it is finding a place in professional sports. However this article also encourages the spiritual dimensions of yoga to be incorporated into
Ray Lewis, famous American football linebacker from Baltimore Ravens, reportedly told the Chicago (USA) media today: “I’m talking about an hour-and-a-half yoga classes at times. And the crazy part about it is, once you actually get into it a good two or three times, you really miss if you don’t do it. It stretches you that much.”
Lewis, first linebacker to win Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Award on the winning Super Bowl team, has been reportedly doing yoga in the offseason for the past two to three years.
Yoga reportedly makes a great complement to athletic training and various types of athletes are
incorporating the practice into their training for bettering sports performance by improving flexibility and functional strength, building muscle energy and stamina, preventing sports injuries, dealing with stress, overcoming back pain, improving breathing and focusing, increasing endurance, etc.
Acclaimed Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, extended invitation to yoga practicing athletes to explore the spiritual dimension of yoga also because actually yoga is a mental and physical discipline by means of which the human-soul (jivatman) unites with universal-soul (parmatman).
Yoga, referred as “a living fossil”, was one of the six systems of orthodox Hindu philosophy, Zed, who is president of Universal Society of Hinduism, said and urged athletes to take a look at the rest of the five
schools also. According to Patanjali, author of the basic text, the Yoga Sutra, who codified yoga after being founded by Yajanavalkya, yoga was a methodical effort to attain perfection, through the control of the different elements of human nature, physical and psychical, Rajan Zed added. Famous athletes whose names have been reportedly associated with yoga practice include Eddie George (football), Al Leiter (baseball), Justin Gimelstob (tennis), David Duval (golf), Barry Zito (baseball), Sean Burke (hockey), Diamond Dallas Page (wrestling), Kevin Garnett (basketball), etc.
Many books and DVDs on the subject have flooded the market, including Teaching Yoga
to Athletes, Yoga for Athletes, The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga, Yoga Conditioning
for Athletes, Real Men Do Yoga, The Athlete’s Pocket Guide to Yoga, Extreme Yoga
DVD for the Warrior Athlete, Yoga for Every Athlete—Secrets of an Olympic Coach,
Power Yoga for Athletes, Cross Training with Yoga—Improve your sport with Yoga,
Warrior Yoga - Yoga for the Martial Athlete, Yoga for Firefighters and Athletes,
Unlocking Athletic Power - Power Vinyasa Yoga Live, Flexibility For Athletes
Yoga & Rowing, Yoga for Cyclists, Yoga for the Athlete, The American Yoga
Association’s Yoga for Sports, etc.
I stumbled across this fascinating article on the internet. As most of you know from Menuhin's introduction in Iyengar's book 'Light on Yoga' the pair worked together for some years. Here is an intimate account of their work together. I am always interested in reading about different people's yoga practises and how they make yoga a part of their lives - to improve their lives. This is now exception, enjoy!
Shortly after independence, Indian Prime Minister Jaraharlal Nehru gave an open invitation to
world's best musicians to tour the newly independent country. In response, Yehudi Menuhin arranged tour India for two months, turning any profit from his concerts over to the Famine Fund for Madras. In 1952, the Menuhins stayed as personal guests of Prime Minster Nehru who shared Yehudi Menuhin’s interest in
yoga. Famously, Nehru made a friendly challenge to Menuhin about his practice and the two were found in headstand as the butler came in to announce dinner. When this story reached the press, “gurus began to queue up wherever [Menuhin] went, each recommended by some prominent patron.” One of these prominent
patrons fetched Iyengar from his home in Poona to visit Menuhin in Bombay.
After warning Iyengar that he only had five minutes in his busy schedule, Iyengar guided Menuhin into
a deep relaxation and awoke not five minutes, but an hour later. At the time Menuhin was suffering from insomnia and this was perhaps the best gift possible. Upon awaking, Menuhin asked Iyengar to demonstrate his art and then enthusiastically requested Iyengar to teach him. During that tour of India he met Ravi Shankar, sitar virtuoso, and eventually persuaded him to perform in the west. Ravi's popularity had significant consequences for both music and vegetarianism in the following decades.
In 1954, Iyengar spent more than six weeks in Gstaad, Switzerland where Menuhin was performing
as Menuhin's personal yoga instructor; this year also included a brief visit to London. This began fifteen years of regular interaction between Iyengar and Menuhin (see photo on the right), Iyengar travelling to Europe to teach Menuhin most summers between 1961-1984 as well as teaching Menuhin whenever he toured
India. During the 1980s Menuhin made jazz recordings with Stephane Grappelli and of Eastern music with the great sitarist Ravi Shankar (see picture of Shankar).
Menuhin's interests outside music were broad. He was known as an environmentalist and practitioner of yoga. He was introduced to yoga in the 1950s and studied with B.K.S. Iyengar, a noted guru. Menuhin's daily regimen included 15 to 20 minutes of standing on his head. He also used yoga to relax before concerts. Menuhin advocated a vegetarian diet and warned of the dangers of eating white rice, white bread, and refined sugar.
Renowned, American born violinist & conductor, Yehudi Menuhin was a vegetarian and committed supporter of many social and environmental causes, with a great interest in Yoga and eastern religion. He
was an anti-pollution activist and vegetarian advocate.
The following extract is by
James Henry Cook, quoted by his daughter Kathleen Keleny in her book:
The First Century of Health
Hi there, I am a dedicated yoga practitioner and teacher, practising Ashtanga now for over 12 years. I am also very interested in and practise meditation and different healing systems from energy healing such as Reiki to traditional western methods such as hypnotherapy and psychotherapy. I am currently now running my own hypnotherapy practise which you can read about on www.hypnotherapywellbeing.co.uk